Neon Tetras are a hardy freshwater fish that can thrive so long as their aquarium water conditions remain stable. A species native to the slow-moving blackwater regions of the Amazon Basin, Neon Tetras have been bred commercially and can now adapt to a variety of well-maintained aquarium environments. Neon Tetras may have issues acclimating to new tanks in the first week or so, and are also susceptible to Neon Tetra disease. However, water condition stability seems to be the most important factor in determining Neon Tetra health, and not particular water conditions, if within reason. Maintaining a clean, balanced, and healthy environment friendly to Neon Tetras will help them thrive in a well-established community.
Neon Tetras (Paracheirodon innesi) are a freshwater fish that are native to the blackwater areas of the Amazon Basin and the Orinoco River. As such, they have traditionally adapted to low-light, warm, slow-moving, and slightly acidic fresh waters. However, since the 1930s, Neon Tetras have been captured and bred in captivity. Although wild-caught examples of Neon Tetras exist, most aquarium specimens today have been bred in Eastern Europe and Asia.
This can be an issue for the Neon Tetra, a small (about 1.5 inches in length), silvery fish with a blue neon stripe and a prominent red stripe that stretches from its tail to halfway up its body. Some owners have noticed that the captive-bred species contain diseases that would not otherwise be found in wild-caught Neon Tetras. Others have noted that captive breeding has affected hardiness and has caused adaptability issues, especially to new aquariums. Still others insist that Neon Tetras are hardy, but do require an adjustment period of one or two weeks to new environments. They also have noted that Neon Tetras are adaptable to a variety of aquarium environments, but thrive best in well-maintained, steady water conditions.
As contradictory as it may seem, all of these things can be true. The Neon Tetra, by virtue of being bred in captivity, can be in close proximity to other animals and food that would make it susceptible to bacterial diseases, especially Neon Tetra Disease. Captive-bred Neon Tetras may also have a hard time adapting quickly to new aquarium environments. This, in fact, is not disputed among those who claim that Neon Tetras are a hardy species. Finally, stability in water conditions may be a key part to the Neon Tetra’s health. The Neon Tetra, after all, evolved in a heavily-forested tropical blackwater environment with conditions that, although not typical of more temperate freshwater lakes and ponds, were relatively stable.
Neon Tetras are not a particularly short-lived fish. A well-kept school of Neon Tetras can survive from 5 to 8 years in an aquarium, even up to 10 years. Keeping these things in mind, the hardiness of Neon Tetras can be put into perspective. They may have a limited range of environmental conditions in which to live, but they tend to last a fairly long time once those conditions are met and preserved. In this way, the Neon Tetra can be considered hardy for its environment, once given the care you naturally would provide a fish living in your aquarium.
Proper Environments for Neon Tetras
In order to maintain its health and longevity, the Neon Tetra needs to exist in the right environmental conditions. As stated before, this tropical fish is hardy in the sense of its lifespan and endurance — it can exist in a variety of water conditions, with its main hurdles to adaptability being issues with acclimation and water condition stability. For these reasons, a detailed review of the proper aquarium environments for Neon Tetras will follow.
Neon Tetras do best in schools of at least six fish — and feel most comfortable in schools of fifteen fish or more. For this reason some have recommended that you keep them in tanks of at least 10 to 20 gallons or more, with water that has been peat-filtered. Neon Tetras require a moderate water current with moderate to dim lighting — an emulation of the slow-moving, vegetation-covered waters of its origin. Similarly, the water temperature should be 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
You must cycle your tank before hosting Neon Tetras, for they are sensitive to ammonia, nitrate, and nitrites. Like any aquarium, the water will have to be changed regularly — in this case, it is suggested that 25 to 50 percent of the water is replaced every other week (some sources say at even shorter intervals). In order to keep the fish from being vacuumed out of the tank, it is recommended that you keep a mesh or foam covering on the filter intake.
The tank should have a dark sand or gravel base with twisted roots or driftwood. Dried leaves can be placed on top of this base in order give the water a light brown color, like blackwater. These leaves will need to be replaced every two or three weeks. Neon Tetra may also benefit from live plants in the aquarium. Though the schools will swim mainly in the open middle areas of the tank, they will occasionally take cover under these plants.
Neon Tetras require a pH level of 5 to 8, with some sources suggesting a finer range between 6.5 and 7. The dKH (degrees of Carbonate Hardness) should be at typical freshwater levels, from 4 to 8. Water hardness should be at levels of less than 10 dGH (degrees of General Hardness), with some sources suggesting levels of under 4 dGH, a relatively soft water.
Neon Tetras will require different conditions for breeding, so it is advised to use a completely different conditioned tank. Generally, breeding Neon Tetras will require a steady temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit. They will also need lower pH levels, at around 5 to 6. Finally, the dGH levels should be lower as well, at about 1 to 2 dGH.
Acclimating Neon Tetras to a new tank is a relatively slow process. You should add the aquarium water to the Neon Tetra bag in small amounts, over a long period of time. Then, you should gently add the Neon Tetras to the new aquarium environment. Keep an eye on the fish as they may experience shock, and then monitor them for the first week (or two) of life in the aquarium. This is a crucial part of the Neon Tetra’s acclimation period. After this, with regular tank cleaning, water monitoring, and maintenance, the Neon Tetra should be fine.
A complete guide to caring for Neon Tetras can be found here.
Neon Tetra Diseases
Neon Tetras are susceptible to a degenerative disease called Neon Tetra Disease, or NTD. This is caused by Pleistophora hyphessobryconis, a type of fungal parasite. When Neon Tetras ingest the parasite — typically within infected dead fish or live foods — they develop the symptoms of NTD.
A fish infected with NTD will first become restless and may stray off from the main school of fish, especially during the night hours. The fish will develop an erratic swimming pattern which will become more pronounced as time goes on. It will lose color in its bands and become white in areas along its spine. This discoloration will spread to muscles of the other parts of its body. After the latter stages of the disease culminate in a spinal curvature, an infected tail fin, and a bloated appearance, the fish will expire.
In order to prevent NTD, you must isolate the infected fish and remove it from the population as soon as possible. The disease starts infecting fish from inside their bodies, so they can not be allowed to eat dead fish infected with the disease. If possible, move the non-infected population to another, uninfected tank. Regular tank cleaning and maintenance will help reduce the risk of these types of diseases.
Preventing NTD by selecting healthy populations of Neon Tetra is also recommended. Purchase your fish in-person to see that their condition is not hindered by the disease. You may want to quarantine the new Neon Tetra school in another tank for two weeks before joining a tank with other species of fish. This way, you can monitor the health of the Neon Tetra to make sure you do not have an infected population.
So, are Neon Tetras hardy? Neon Tetras require a little more careful acclimation period than other freshwater fish, but with proper care and maintenance, they can be a hardy, long-lasting species of fish that add vibrant color and liveliness to your aquarium. It is recommended that you clean their tanks regularly, monitor their water conditions, isolate any diseased fish, and emulate their natural environments as closely as possible.
By initially isolating the Neon Tetras in a separate tank for two weeks, you will prevent diseases that may spread from their population. By paying close attention to the Neon Tetra’s first hours of introduction, you will be able to prevent transition shock. After a monitored transition period of one or two weeks, and with regular maintenance, you will be able to keep the Neon Tetras healthy for a long time.